DramaReviewSouth West

Touching The Void – Bristol Old Vic

Director: Tom Morris

Writer: David Greig

Movement director: Sasha Milavic Davies

Designer: Ti Green

Composer: Jon Nicholls

Lighting designer: Chris Davey

Reviewer: Hugh McCann

This adaptation of Touching The Void retells the classic autobiographical account of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates’ death-defying climbing trip in the Andes, written by Joes Simpson. The piece begins with Joe’s sister Sarah (Fiona Hampton) addressing the audience as if attendees at Joe’s wake at a cosy Scottish pub, the Clachaig. The arrival of Simon (Edward Hayter) and his accidental companion Richard (Patrick McNamee) starts Fiona on a line of questioning about what the appeal of climbing is, and why her brother was willing to die for it. Fiona’s questions make a lot of sense to those of us not compelled to scale near impossible summits in freezing conditions, but as Simon and Richard persuade her of the allure of it, they also persuade us. They begin with small climbing demonstrations using pub furniture, but these demonstrations soon grow into lengthy and absorbing reenactments of the infamous Andes’s trip, drawing in Joe (Josh Williams) himself.

What writer David Greig does through channelling the instinctive questions a tale like this might raise in us, into Sarah, is create a dialogue that weaves itself into a linear narrative, that looks at climbing from a range of angles, from an ‘addiction like any other’ to ‘the most human thing there is’. The balance between imagined conversations and biographical drama is held well and is used to alter pace, which helps keep a narrative of ever-escalating tension dynamic for the duration of the show.

The set, designed by Ti Green, is divided porously between downstage and upstage. Downstage is our cosy pub, sparse but inviting. Upstage flickers between a great oozing blackness, and a harsh blue fog, from which, some way into the piece, a looming mountain rises. The mountain is a beautiful, chaotic scaffold, strewn with white paper, that tears as our adventurers ascend it, with impressively choreographed, and convincingly performed difficulty. The physical precarity of the performers makes immediate the danger endured and allows the dialogue to juxtapose with this the comradery between Joe and Simon. Despite the piece being set in desperate, sub-zero conditions, there is a warmth at the heart of it, looking through an old wooden pub with its jukebox playing, at two friends who have chosen to risk their lives for happiness, together.

Touching the Void is a timeless tale of survival and determination, and the places far beyond the normal rules of society. It is not a subtle metaphor about finding strength, nor a provocation to push ourselves to the same degree as Joe and Simon, but a reminder of our innate ability as humans to endure more than we imagine we can, when pushed to it.

Runs until Saturday 6th October 2018 | Image: Geraint Lewis

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The Southwest team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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